Screen Printed Vs Vinyl [Comparison & Ideas]

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Do you want to print really cool graphic t-shirts but are confused about which method and technique to use? Or, what screen printing machine to select? 

When starting a business of personalized t-shirts, people generally compare screen printing vs vinyl printing. Both these printing techniques are quite popular and come with their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. So, choosing between the two will require some amount of knowledge. 

Screen printing is suitable for more complex designs and tends to last longer than vinyl printing. Whereas vinyl printing is cost-effective to set up and is highly suitable if you have to print just a few shirts. Having said that, there is a range of other things that you need to know to decide which one is the best bet. 

In today’s guide, we will take you through the workings of both these methods and help you reach a decision. So, let’s dive right in! 

What Does Screen Printing Involve?

What does screen printing involve

If you have used stencils before, screen printing will come naturally to you. Screen printing helps you work on a range of fabrics and delivers raised designs once the printing is done. You will need to put a thick layer of ink over a mesh screen and lay that down over a stencil. The ink will get pushed through the stencil, and the desired pattern will form over the fabric. 

This method is popularly known as silkscreen printing. Just like laser printing, when you use the screen print technique, you can print various colors on a material. 

Professional companies indeed use large machines to screen print t-shirts and other materials. However, if you plan to do it on a small scale, you can also make screen printers at home. For that, you will need to get your hands on a few basic supplies, such as craft tools and Plastisol ink. 

From what we have noticed, the final result of a screen print technique is mostly a raised and thick design. 

Now, when screen printing, people prefer to play with a few colors as layering with stencils becomes quite a tedious task. That said, creating nuanced photographs using a screen print is not an impossible feat. You will just need to get your hands on the right set of tools. 

How To Use Heat Transfer Vinyl?

When you are using a heat press transfer to make raised designs on a material, you will need to make use of vinyl heat transfer. This product comes in a range of textures and colors and will always have a glue coating on its back. The glue gets activated the moment it gets exposed to the high temperature of the heat press machine and it then attaches the design to the fabric. 

If you are a digital painter, you can make use of Cricut Design Space to create designs for vinyl t-shirt printing. Once you are done making the design, use an electric cutting machine to cut the design according to the desired shape. With the cutout in place, the designer can arrange it on the fabric and use the vinyl heat press to stick the cutout to the material. 

Vinyl printing is not rocket science. You will just need to put the design on the desired surface, and the heat press will seal the vinyl to the cloth. Vinyl heat transfers can be done with different types of heat presses. Depending on your needs, you can use a regular heat press or a massive one that is used for commercial purposes. 

If you plan to do it professionally, you can implement more complex techniques to handle intricate and precise prints. Once done, a design that is printed using the heat transfer vinyl process will look a bit raised and have a plasticky texture to it. When you are using only one color, the vinyl can have a clean appearance with sharp edges. 

However, when incorporating multiple colors, you will have to do it a lot more carefully unless you want the design to look blotchy. Professional artists, who have years of experience working with this technique, can manage to arrange a range of colors to create exceptionally beautiful effects. 

Format large inkjet printer working on yellow vinyl banner. Difference: screen printing vs heat press transfer.

Difference: Screen Printing Vs Heat Press Transfer

Now that you know a little about what these two processes entail, let’s take a quick look at what the major differences between screen printing vs heat press are. To understand which method will be more suitable for your purpose, you need to understand the intricacies of their functioning. 

In this section, we are going to measure both these methods to the different key factors. So, let’s take a look. 

1. Difficulty

When you are planning to incorporate a print design on a t-shirt, making use of a heat press is a simpler process compared to screen printing or silk screening. However, you need to keep other factors in mind too. You might need to use screen printers if you have to create fine details. 

There’s no doubt that heat transfer vinyl prints are quite easy to generate. But if you need high-quality designs that go beyond simple graphics, the screen printing method is the best bet. If you are deciding which option to opt for, we would say that it all depends on the setup effort that both require. 

Screen printing requires quite a lot of materials, equipment, and a longer time to set up. Even though it might seem to be a bit taxing, there are many advantages to it. It enables you to print on a large scale and deliver bulk orders. 

On the other hand, using a heat press is pretty simple and requires minimal set up. Once you have the design ready, you will have to send it over to an electronic vinyl cutter which will then be put on a transfer paper and finally transferred to the fabric. After everything is put in place, seal the design inside the equipment and set the right amount of time. 

If you are planning to create multiples of the same design, you can simply keep reusing the digital design and creating vinyl shapes. 

2. Quality

Not everyone will attest to this, but we have seen most artists and printers choosing screen prints over heat transfer designs when it comes to ensuring better quality. This is mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, when opting for screen printing, you will find it easier to layer colors. We have also noticed that the colors are a lot more vivid in screen-printed works than those created using the heat press method. 

Colors do not get printed well when using the heat transfer vinyl method on dark shirts. However, when implementing the screen printing method, you can work on both light and dark-colored t-shirts with much ease. You will just need to choose the ink color carefully. 

Trying to print black and white photo-realistic images on your t-shirt? We recommend you use the screen printing method for it can easily create fine details. You can also create images with vivid hues on both dark and light-colored shirts using this method. 

Single-colored heat press designs look good and quirky but lack the details and the vividness of the hues that screen printing offers. 

3. Durability

We often get this question from our readers: does screen printing last longer than vinyl? The answer to this is a reverberating yes! Vinyl prints have a decently long life, but they tend to crack over time and start to fade out with use.

The major difference between these two methods is in the way the printing is done. Screen printed designs are done in a way that all colors are soaked into the fabric; as a result, they tend to last for a long time. If applied in the correct manner, screen printing done with Plastisol ink should never fade or peel even after years of use. 

Some companies that work with screen printing techniques claim that the prints will last for about 50 washes or so. Then there are other manufacturers who claim that the prints will last as long as the t-shirt is in good shape. 

On the other hand, when using heat press designs, the colors remain on the surface of the garment and tend to get damaged easily. The colors start to fade as the garments are washed a few times, and in the worst-case scenario, they crack. 

Heat transfer designs work perfectly for a few years, but they are not the best when it comes to longevity. The kind of vinyl that you use also affects the durability of the designs. Good heat press designs should easily last for about 50 cycles in the washing machine. 

All said, remember that when you are washing a screen-printed or vinyl-designed t-shirt, it is best that you wash the garment inside out. This will protect the design from getting roughed up and damaged. Because of this, both the design and the fabric will last for a long time. 

4. Affordability

If you are comparing both these printing methods, the cost is definitely one of the most important factors to take note of. When you use screen printing, you can reuse the screen many times to print t-shirts in bulk. Long story short, when you are planning to print in bulk, the screen printing method is more cost-effective than the heat transfer vinyl method. 

However, for smaller projects, this method can prove to be more cost-intensive. Plastisol ink and other chemicals that are required for screen printing are quite costly and can leave a dent in your pocket. 

In such cases, the heat transfer vinyl method is the best as the supplies needed for the process are pretty inexpensive. To sum up, if you are planning to start a t-shirt business where you print in bulk, investing in a screen printing device would be more cost-effective in the long run. 

5. Speed Of Printing

When you are planning to quickly get a few t-shirts printed for your friends, we suggest opting for the heat press vinyl method. If you are handling a few orders with basic shapes, the heat press method is better as it hardly takes any time to set it up. 

On the other hand, if you are going to print several shirts, screen printing is the way to go. It does take longer to set it up, but once done, you can efficiently print t-shirts in bulk. 

6. Handling Complex Designs

For printing complex designs with many colors, we recommend using the screen printing method. However, if you do not want to use screen printing, get a print and then heat transfer it to a garment of your choice. This way, you can play around with more complex and intricate designs. 

The only drawback of using this method is that when you heat transfer a design, the colors do not soak into the fabric. So, there’s less chance that the print will be durable. If you are not too careful when washing, the colors might even come off. 

7. Types Of Images And Photographs

If you are planning to print a complex multi-colored photograph using a heat transfer vinyl, we suggest that you drop the idea. When using the heat transfer technique, you need to keep in mind that the designs do not layer very easily and tend to form a bulky lump on the fabric. So, the end result might look pretty stiff and feel uncomfortable to wear. 

Screen printing, on the other hand, is quite suitable for printing images and photographs. That said, it works best when the images are in black and white and do not contain too many different colors. 

Pros And Cons Of Heat Transfer Printing

Advantages

To begin with, this method hardly requires many tools and accessories and can be set up in a very small span of time. So, if you are just starting out with a t-shirt business, this is a low-investment technique that you can work with. 

Moreover, the designs are pretty sharp and crisp. Since you have to print each garment individually, it allows you to customize each of them. So, even if you are planning to print one t-shirt, you can get it done without much fuss. 

Disadvantages

Heat presses are not the best bet when you are planning to work with more than two colors. With this method, creating layers is quite challenging, and as mentioned earlier, it is not suitable for bulk printing. 

Lastly, we suggest that you wash heat-pressed designs with a mild detergent in cold water if you want the designs to last for a long time. 

Pros And Cons Of Screen Printing

Advantages

Unlike designs made with vinyl printing, those that are screen printed do not crack or fade out easily. And when handling large orders, this is the best option as it allows cheaper bulk processing. 

Disadvantages

Screen printing is not suitable for small-scale business owners. This is because the setup cost is pretty high, and it won’t make sense for you to spend so much money on it unless you are planning to print t-shirts in bulk. 

Serigraphy silk screen print process at clothes factory. Carousel frame, squeegee and plastisol color paints. Screen printed vs vinyl final words.

Screen Printed Vs Vinyl Final Words

With that, we have now reached the end of this guide. 

We hope that after reading this, you will be able to decide which printing method will be best suited for the project that you are working on. For your help, we have listed a range of factors that you need to take note of to understand which printing technique will be most favorable. 

If you are just starting off with a new business, consider the production costs to make sure that you don’t run at a loss. However, if you are an already established t-shirt designer, upscaling would be a great idea for you. Keep all these factors in mind, and make the right choice. 

Check out our previous article on screen printing vs sublimation to know more about that comparison. 

Until next time, happy printing!